When I first started reading Bakuman, I was amazed by how amazingly, blatantly sexist it was. I’m not even talking subtext here. I’m talking about stuff like Takagi explicitly talking about how smart girls are actually stupid because they forget how everyone hates smart girls, and that if they were really smart they’d purposely act stupid so that boys would like them more. Yes, he really says that.
Along with those kinds of explicitly sexist statements, there’s also the idea in the series that shounen manga was so much better before stupid girls started liking it and encouraging shounen manga to be filled with stupid (buttsecksing) bishies rather than fighting and scenes where boys just walk up to girls and grab their boobs. Man, I wish we could go back to those days when manga was a man’s romance! Again, some of this is explicitly spoken, like when Mashirou’s mother says that she does not approve of his desire to become a manga artist, but she is overruled by his father who says that “Women don’t understand men’s dreams.” Similarly, Takagi’s mom also disproves of his decision to be a manga author and wants him to fall in line and live the kind of life that she dictates. Yeah, well too bad mom! ROW ROW FIGHT THE (FEMALE) POWER!
The only other mom that I can remember seeing so far is Azuki’s mom, who represents a different approach. Here’s it’s all about the commodified body of women in shounen manga. She talks a little with Mashirou and Takagi about her chaste courting by Mashirou’s uncle, and basically offers her daughter as a prize to Mashirou. She’s not one of those stupid annoying moms. The other important aspect of her, which is explicitly mentioned by Mashirou and Takagi, is that she is still very beautiful. I was also getting some kind of DNA2 vibes from her character design. Man, DNA2. Now that’s a series that understands what women are all about! They’re there to throw themselves at us, show us their tits, be rescued by us before they get gangraped, and act embarrassed in sexually appealing ways when they fart in inopportune moments. Anyway, the whole MILF-y mom thing matters because it makes Azuki even more of an idealized shounen manga girl. Not only is she beautiful now, but she’ll remain fuckable even into middle age when every other woman turns into some annoying, nagging mom. You know what kind: the kind of mom that embarrasses you when you want to write in on your Shounen Jump questionnaires that your favorite series is To Love-ru (like Fukuda hypothesizes.)
And it’s not just the moms that get placed in positions to illustrate the correct place of women inside of manga and relating to the production and reception of manga. Let’s take the girlfriends. First, there’s Azuki. Azuki is stripped down literally to her essence: she is a prize. Once Mashirou and Takagi get an anime adaptation of one of their mangas, Mashirou gets to marry her. Otherwise, we see very little of her and hear even less. One of the only times that both Mashirou and the audience get any real interaction with her comes from a plot point when she is considering doing some kind of photobook to boost her exposure and popularity. Her thoughts here are entirely “Which men get access to my commodified body first?” She exists entirely as some kind of meta plot device and metacommentary.
There’s also Miyoshi. Takagi isn’t even quite sure himself why he is going out with her, other than the fact that she has huge boobs. Unlike Azuki, she actually you know, interacts with Takagi. Of course, there are some big disclaimers here. One of them is that this is partially because she is “just one of the guys”. Takagi mentions one time on a date during the summer how for example he’s surprised that she can make herself look “cute” since he rarely would think of her like that. Her hobby, for the beginning part of the series anyway, is that she’s part of the karate club (and can and does beat up Takagi one time when he wants some uh, firsthand research for a fight scene he’s writing). That said, she’s still a girl, and that means she ruins everything. She is usually allowed to help around the studio in only the most basic of ways, like cleaning up, serving tea, or reading through cases of manga sent over by their editors in order to find specific pages to reference. And even those simple tasks can cause problems, like when she comes across the book (with a note in it) that Iwase gave Takagi, or how she sometimes interrupts his phonecalls with Aoki when he’s bouncing some dialogue off of her.
Miyoshi also really ruins things when she comes in between Takagi and Mashirou’s BURNING MANLY PASSIONATE FRIENDSHIP (slash fodder?) Takagi starts spending too much time with her than with his blood brother until the end of space and time Mashirou. He starts shirking some of his writing duties while helping Miyoshi with her attempt to write a cell phone novel. “Helping” starts to turn into “writing” however because Miyoshi isn’t very good at writing anything. Silly girl! Creating things is a manly passion! Go back to doing chores like a girl is supposed to do!
Finally, there’s one last major female character: Aoki. She is the bitch. In fact, she is the worst kind of bitch: the kind of bitch that thinks she can directly affect what is and is not shounen manga. Like who the fuck does she think she is with her attitude when Eiji is judging everyone’s contest entries? What a stuck up bitch, thinking her manga is the best! Or refusing to change the story around so that it would poll better. Or mentioning that she can just go back to Margaret if this gig doesn’t work out. Please! Go! Stay out of boys-only clubhouse! Ugh, and worst of all is the part when she rejects Nakai’s BURNING LOVE AND PASSION when he POURS OUT HIS SOUL by drawing manga in front of her window during a blizzard. Only a cold, heartless harpy (or mom, ugh) could treat a man and his dreams like that!
Then, somewhere around chapter 50, there’s a big shift in the manga and chunks of the story start to be told from Aoki’s perspective, rather than Mashirou and Takagi and all of the ridiculously sexist underpinings of shounen manga get subverted. Let’s see:
First, let’s take the time when Eiji is judging everyone’s manga. This scene is, as basically the entire series is up to this point, shown from Mashirou and Takagi’s point of view. Obviously, they think that their submission is the best. It’s also reasonable that they would think that it’s alright for Fukuda to think that his manga was the best because of all of that “manga is a man’s passion!” business and whatnot. So why then does Aoki have to be prissy and conceited if she thinks that her’s is the best. Oh yeah, those pesky sexist double standards. Similarly, her decision to wind down her manga rather than drastically retool it works the same way. I could’ve sworn that Mashirou and Takagi had some type of conversation with their editor about heavily changing their manga, but they chose not to. Again, it’s okay for them because to say that sort of thing because this manga, which is channeling shounen manga in general, have told us that it’s OK for men to stick to their dreams. But obviously for a woman to do that, it’s a sign that she’s difficult.
There’s also an inversion of the earlier scene with Nakai later on, this time from her perspective rather than from his. Aoki has been pitched a concept (by an editor that really is doing this as a pretext to having him work for her so that he can leverage his power over her as a way to try to get into her pants) to do a Mizuki Kawashita-esque fanservice comedy, and she would like him to be her assistant again like he was on her earlier manga. This time, Nakai says that he only will if she’ll go out with him. This then completely changes the perspective on the earlier scene. Maybe he was being earnest by pouring out his soul in the snow. But then again, maybe he was just being an entitled asshole who was expecting her to just fall into line for him and his requests.
Around the same time, there’s another great scene where she’s bouncing some ideas off of Takagi for scenes and dialog for her new series. Both of them don’t really know how to write for characters of the opposite sex very well, so they’re asking each other how they would act or feel in certain situations. Normally, Takagi wouldn’t really care about this and just make the female character in his newest series a blatant fantasy object, but his editor has advised him to try to write her a little bit more realistically since such a large portion of Jump’s readership is female. Also implied here is that Takagi is kind of an asshole, but you probably figured that out by now.
Anyway, Takagi proposes that she have a scene where a student randomly flips up a (sexy) teacher’s skirt so that everyone (including the reader, obviously) can see her panties, and asks her what she would do in that situation. Rather than saying something along the lines of blushing furiously and trying to cover herself back up in a way that emphasizes her humiliation and the male characters’ ability to have access to her body at will, she tells him that she would send him to the principal’s office, call his parents down to the school, and make them take him home. Otherwise, he’ll think that it’s okay to do this and turn into some kind of train pervert or something.
Currently, the series has just reintroduced Iwase, she of “smart girls like her are ugly” from the beginning of the manga. This set up a harem joke (which may or may not have been explicitly made; I can’t remember) as Takagi was having lunch with Iwase, Aoki, Miyoshi, and Azuki. While reading this, I started thinking about shipping Iwase or Aoki with Takagi. I knew that the series wouldn’t have him break up with Miyoshi over her suspicions about him and his meetings and conversations with Aoki and Iwase regarding their new manga projects, but much like he points out, both of them are much more interesting, smart, pretty, ambitious, and (seemingly) compatible with Takagi (although he then ends with “But I love her a million times more”), but it made me wonder why IS he
going out with marrying her anyway when he could totally trade up?
Of course, I then immediately realized how much of an enormous asshole that made me, and kind of felt sorry for Miyoshi.